|Thursday, 4 December 2003|
Please forward your comments to the Editor, Daily News.
Email : email@example.com
Snail mail : Daily News, 35, D.R. Wijewardana Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Telephone : 94 11 2429429 / 2421181
Fax : 94 11 2429210
Please consider the public
Unprincipled, irresponsible trade union action continues to compound the hardships of the people with the health sector once again collapsing into chaos.
Although it is all too evident that work disruptions in our principal Government hospitals have a catastrophic impact on the lives of the ordinary citizenry, the Health Sector Trade Union Alliance continues to be hell-bent on achieving its pecuniary ends, come what may. For instance, its strike on Tuesday brought monumental suffering to patients and their relatives in Government hospitals.
The health sector thus becomes the second public utility service to fall victim to the vampirical, pecuniary lusts of interest groups, over the past few days, which, apparently, couldn't care less for the consequences their irresponsible actions have for the public good. The first sector to be seriously affected was the private bus transport system. In that crisis too the public suffered stoically as these interest groups clamoured for their "pound of flesh".
We prefer the phrase interest groups to trade unions on account of the shadowy nature of the forces which are propelling these strikes. The tenacity and insensitivity with which these work stoppages are being effected and pursued, point to the confluence of a variety of motives in these crises. However, it is amply evident that the public good is farthest from the minds of these strikers. In fact it could be said to be strikingly absent. If this were not so, would the suffering of the poor go callously unheeded?
While irresponsible strike action of this kind needs to be unreservedly denounced, we are also quite aware of the role the Government could play in expediting the resolution of such crises. It has been our observation that the Government allows such crises to drag on for far too long, although it possesses the authority and capability to end them earlier.
Time and again we have called for the establishment of widely-representative arbitration or conflict-resolution bodies which could speedily inquire into and dispose of these crises. Why haven't such measures been implemented?
Consensual decision-making involving all parties to such conflicts, is, therefore, the ideal which should be aimed at and we consider it in the national interest for such initiatives to be explored, with the Government spearheading the effort. On the other hand, rational courses of action would produce positive results with only the rationally-inclined and not with those who are destructively-oriented. Unfortunately, the dark presence of the latter is seen in some of the current strikes. The State would have no choice but to deal firmly with such forces in accordance with the law.
Considering the foregoing, we call for far-sightedness among the strikers and their organisers. The notion of privatising public utilities is proving popular and seductive. But privatising the public health sector would sound the death knell of an important public utility which has been a great boon to the ordinary people.
It is irresponsible strikes and lawlessness in these sectors which make privatisation seem feasible and correct. We, therefore, appeal for rationality and wisdom among the striking unions. The people's interests must be of prime importance.
Wanted, pro-poor policies
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in a lecture delivered in Bangladesh some months ago has said that the East Asian crisis could have been avoided had those countries not followed the World Bank and IMF prescription. He also said that "Latin American region as a whole pursued Washington Consensus economic policies and subsequently had to face major crises."
This criticism of the Washington Consensus policies from the former Chief Economist of the World Bank cannot be simply put aside. It is necessary to probe whether there are alternative policies that could be followed.
Nature is immensely diverse. It does not decree uniform patterns. Since nature, society and thought exist in unison, it is reasonable to conclude that such diversity is an inherent feature of human society too. Hence, if we take the realm of political economy, no one could argue that the Washington Consensus provides the only way forward for developing countries like ours.
In search of new ways, we could look towards Latin America to learn from its mistakes as well as from its bold experiments. It is in Latin America dependent capitalist relations of production had developed the furthest. It is there the organic link between global capital and the local bourgeoisie had strengthened the most among developing nations.
It is there the neo-liberal policies had a free reign. At present we could see two countries in the region, Brazil and Venezuela - who are trailblazers of an alternative path to development, leaving aside the exceptional case of Cuba which has already shown many positive results worthy of emulation.
Joseph Stiglitz calls for pro-poor policies, because it is the poor who suffer most during any economic crisis Brazil and Venezuela have embarked on a path based on just such policies.
Even China and Malaysia, closer home have followed independent paths, not bowing to the dictates of international financial institutions.
It is most unfortunate that policy makers and their political gurus in Sri Lanka have been totally subservient to the World Bank and the IMF, even to the extent of harming the national interest. There are instances in which even World Bank economists have been more progressive than our own policy makers.
There is no need to agree to World Bank dictates as fait accompli. There is an urgent need to look for policy alternatives. It is needless to say that they should be pro-poor.
Produced by Lake House